EMPLOYERS are bracing for a financial hit of more than $50 million this Friday with nearly 380,000 workers expected to chuck post-Australia Day sickies.
With Australia Day falling on a Thursday this year, many will find it hard to resist the temptation of a four-day public holiday long weekend.
Paul Dundon, managing director of absence management experts Direct Health Solutions, said sick leave would jump by 42 per cent, with the most affected industries expected to be travel and transport, call centres, and manufacturing and production.
According to DHS, absenteeism costs the Australian economy more than $33 billion in wages and lost productivity every year.
In 2016, absenteeism increased by 0.9 days to 9.5 days per employee, at an average cost of $3608.
DHS predicts sick leave will rise from an average of 3.5 per cent of workers to 5 per cent this Friday, at a cost to the Australian economy of $54 million.
"In total, with 10 million workers approximately in the economy, we are looking at about 150,000 extra work days," Mr Dundon said. "Each day costs on average $360 to employers. This means $54 million for the day.
"On top of this, to cover sick leave, employers will have to keep workers on overtime to cover critical work, and employers will need to balance their service levels with potential staff shortages."
It comes after a similar warning from the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which put the figure at $62 million.
ACCI chief executive James Pearson urged employees to do the right thing and apply for annual leave.
"Employees wanting to take an extended break ought to do the right thing: apply for a day of annual leave on Friday rather than claiming a sickie," he said.
"Misusing sick leave erodes trust in the workplace, puts extra strain on colleagues doing the right thing and leaves people short of sick leave when they genuinely need it.
"Based on experience in past years, the number of people taking sick leave on Friday could be 180,000 people more than a typical workday, costing Australian employers more than $62 million.
"If someone is unexpectedly absent their manager or colleagues will generally need to pick up the extra workload.
This isn't fair - it places a burden on people who are busy doing their own job, and reduces services and extends waiting times for customers and clients.
"Workplaces operate best where there is a high level of trust between managers and staff, but misusing personal leave undermines this trust. Many employers will require staff taking sick leave to provide a medical certificate, a requirement that will become more widely enforced if sick leave is misused.
"Personal leave is an important workplace right, and people who misuse it may find that they have none left when they genuinely need it." Mr Pearson added that with Anzac Day on a Tuesday this year, the issue would raise its head again in April.
Tim Nieuwenhuis, CEO of on-demand labour-hire app Workfast, said one way employers could cut down on sickies was to say to staff early in the week: "I'm looking forward to seeing you on the 27th."
Employers could also inform staff that medical certificates would be required for absenteeism, recommend employees take the day off as annual leave, or simply close up shop completely on Friday.
"Like it or not, many people consider it to be un-Australian not to chuck a few illegitimate sickies, regardless of whether you're in labour hire, hospitality or work in an office, January 27 will be a day employers must plan for," Mr Nieuwenhuis said.
"The impact to the workplace is much greater than the actual financial cost of wages - it affects sales, places unnecessary stress on your remaining staff and customer service is also compromised.
"The issue is what to do when an employee rings in sick. You could call a traditional temp agency to get a casual worker in for the day, but this is both costly and time-consuming for the already stressed out business owner or manager."
And if you are thinking of chucking a sickie, don't tell the boss you have a cold. The most widely accepted reasons for calling in sick are vomiting and diarrhoea, according to a survey of more than 2500 employers and employees in the UK.
Less than two thirds (58.1 per cent) believed the flu was a good reason, and just over half supported people with a 'sick bug' (53.2 per cent). Migraine (36.5 per cent), stress (19.0 per cent), mental health issues (16.9 per cent) and head cold (11.4 per cent) received the least sympathy.
Benenden director Inji Duducu told The Independent the results highlighted problems in the way mental health issues are perceived at work. "There seems to be a clear lack of understanding from some employers in terms of employee wellbeing," she said.
"There is a strong commercial case for having a healthy and engaged workforce, yet employers are evidently ignoring the impact of an employee's physical and mental wellbeing on productivity, absenteeism and [length of service]."
MOST ACCEPTABLE SICKIE EXCUSES
• Vomiting (72.9 per cent)
• Diarrhoea (71.0 per cent)
• Flu (58.1 per cent)
• Sick bug (53.2 per cent)
• A migraine (36.5 per cent)
• Stress (19.0 per cent)
• Mental health issues (16.9 per cent)
• A head cold (11.4 per cent)